Saturday, November 2, 2013


One last observation about Montpellier, written from 7000 miles away in Texas.

There was a place to eat I always wanted to recommend, but never did for a very good reason: it was downstairs from my apartment, The Slum. When I was first offered this place, I looked it up on Google or something and saw there was something called Les Delices du Liban downstairs. Being exposed to the constant odor of a kebab shop was not my idea of a good time, given the way the ones in Berlin smelled. But I didn't have many choices, so I went to look at the apartment anyway. I took it -- now that I've got perspective I'll never understand why -- and figured I could find somewhere else if I had to.

As it turned out, Les Delices du Liban was a great place to have as a neighbor, largely because of this man.

Hani, looking just like himself, in Les Delices du Liban
As long-time readers will remember, the two lunkheaded Germans who moved me dumped my stuff in the street and buggered off to Barcelona, not helping to move me in, which is what I'd paid them for. Hani asked me, in English, if I needed help, and I said I did. He flipped open his phone and called his friend Ali, who humped heavy box after box into my apartment.

Hani speaks English, because he has two sisters in Canada. His place is very well located, both for the binge-drinking bars in the area (it is a truism among Europeans that eating a kebab after a night of heavy drinking will kill the hangover) and because when the Diagonal, the original-language movie house on rue Verdun lets out, the moviegoers get dumped right across the street. He also does a fine lunch trade. Lots of people from the community come to talk with him: he's kind of the unofficial mayor of rue Vanneau.

In the down time between lunch and dinner, various folks come to see him and they sit at one of the outdoor tables, talking, checking their e-mail on their phones (Hani has a plug they can use to recharge them if they ask nicely), and so on. Hani's wife is often there, with his adorable daughter, who was born about a year after I moved in. She has the full panoply of princess paraphernalia, and everyone who hangs out digs her. I tried to get a family portrait, but she was lying down on one of the freezers, sleeping.

Behind the green door lies The Slum

So, I hear you ask, what's the food like? Well, here's your choice:

Yes, I know the awning thingy is in front of the picture. The other menu is on a hanging piece of cloth that was, as Bob Dylan would say, blowin' in the wind.
On the one hand, you might say, a kebab's a kebab. But these are €4 well-spent. (For €7 you can get a platter which comes with hummus and fries and what passes for a salad). Of particular note are the two shawarmas, and, most especially, the taouk. In Austin, there's a place called the Phoenicia Deli, which makes an amazing chicken sandwich in pita bread with a pungent garlic sauce. I raved about it so much the Austin Chronicle has dubbed it the "Ed Ward Memorial Sandwich," and it is mentioned in my horrible Wikipedia entry. But the first time I had one of Hani's taouks, I knew what it was. (I should add his falafel is also great, particularly as part of his vegetarian plate). In a concession to a weird French preference, he'll wrap some fries inside your sandwich if you don't tell him not to. Tell him not to: you need to taste this.

Over the last couple of years, my teeth deteriorated to the point where I could no longer bite one of his sandwiches (or anything else, for that matter) so I had a taouk plate as one of my last meals, because I had to taste Hani's goods again. Over the years, we talked about this and that ("Are you afraid of me? Your President says you should be afraid of me because I am Muslim!"), and he would take packages for me when I wasn't there. He also loaned me his stepladder so I could change light-bulbs -- and taught me the word for "ladder" itself, which I had unaccountably forgotten to learn in high school. (It's escalette).

So I don't miss much about Montpellier these days, but one of the things I do miss is the odor of Hani's grill at lunchtime, which inevitably made me hungry. Also his good attitude, his friendly smile and wave, and his being a living reminder that Muslims and us infidels can get along just fine as long as we talk to each other.

Les Delices du Liban, 3, rue Vanneau, 34000 Montpellier. See pictures above for phone. Open from slightly before noon until late. Hani's not there all the time, but his food is.

* * *

This blog will go silent briefly as I move into my own house here in Austin. I'm going to redesign the banner as soon as I find a decent photo to do it with, and the focus will change to what happens when you've been away from your native country for 20 years. Those who want another perspective on that are directed to my friend Nikki's blog On The  Fence, wherein she returns from a similarly long residence in the U.S. to her native Germany. 

See you soon. 


  1. "Escalette"? Are you sure? Try "échelle."

  2. Maybe that's how you pepsi hillbillies say it, but escalette always worked for me -- and not only with Hani.

  3. That's "Pepsi pea-soupers," please.

  4. Sorry for the cultural misunderstanding.

  5. Ed
    I enjoyed your blog from Montpellier, a city I know a bit because I have a house nearby - just the other side of Gignac. Nice writing!
    Good luck in Texas.

  6. In my youth (70s) that was indeed called an "escabeau"; today is the first time I hear the word "escalette".

  7. Found it: escalette

    nf (è-ska-lè-t')

    Cube de bois équarri qui sert pour la lecture du dessin des soieries

  8. Ed - Do try the Lebanese Falafel available now at Phoencia on's lovely...and welcome back to Austin...


Site Meter